In the Kitchen with Chef Guy Martin at Le Grand Véfour in Paris

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In the Kitchen with Chef Guy Martin at Le Grand Véfour in Paris

“Tout est délicieusement bon ici.” –Maurice Beaudoin

It’s noon. A groom stands outside Le Grand Véfour. Inside the historic listed restaurant, chef Guy Martin greets guests, even personally shows them to their tables, which wear copper plaques dedicated to the restaurant’s legendary guests: Napoleon with Josephine, Victor Hugo, Cocteau, Colette, Maria Callas, Simone de Beauvoir, George Sand…

In the cuisine Guy Martin and his brigade work passionately with delicate seasonal vegetables from market-gardener Didier Pil, poultry from Bresse Miéral, veal from André (the third generation butcher), line-caught fish, delivered direct from French waters, and wonderful cheeses from Boujon, Thonon-les-Bains.

Signatures include the sublime Ravioli Foie Gras, crowned with an airy froth of truffle cream, ordered by one regular client as starter, main and dessert! This client (no names) also recommends the house-baked bread for ‘mopping’. The dishes served here are the chef’s spins to the 250 years of Le Grand Véfour, which began life in around 1784 as Monsieur Aubertot’s fashionable Café de Chartres.

The signature foie gras ravioli at Le Grand Véfour. ©Jérôme Mondière

Born (1957) in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the Alpine Savoie region of France, Guy Martin never really considered a culinary career – he confides that he actually wanted to be Mick Jagger! “But I’m nul at the guitar.” The epiphany came when a friend lent him an extraordinary book written in the 1920s: Henri Babinski’s (aka Ali-Bab) Gastronomie Pratique, Etude Culinaire.

“In his job as an engineer, Babinski traveled the world and collected recipes which he cooked for friends when he returned”, explains Guy Martin. “When I discovered the book I was working in a mountain pizza parlor during school holidays to earn enough money to ski. Pow! I realized cooking could take me round the world, just like Ali Bab. Cooking’s a great communicator, politics divide, the table unites, eh?!”, he smiles.

“I wanted to be a musician in a rock band, but, after working my way through Ali-Bab’s recipes, I changed my ideas”, he admits. “Now I just sing my heart out and air-guitar in the shower!”

No posh cookery schools for Guy Martin, from a job at an Annecy café, he then went on to the prestigious Relais & Chateaux kitchens at Château de Coudrée, then Château de Divonne, where he won two Michelin stars – quite astonishing – he’d just taught himself!

Chef Guy Martin at Le Grand Véfour. ©Jérôme Mondière

In 1991 the wannabe rock-star accepted the challenge proposed by Jean Taittinger, then owner of Le Grand Véfour. ‘”Come to Paris and cook at Le Grand Véfour, an establishment that has been at the epicenter of Parisian life for over 200 years,” suggested Monsieur Taittinger.

“I wasn’t sure. I was a mountain goat and they don’t live in towns. But, the first time I crossed the Palais Royal gardens, they’d just cut the grass, it smelled of hay, children were playing. I pushed open the door of Grand Véfour – I knew I was home”. Of his culinary concept Guy Martin reflects, “For me, the key element in cooking is the influence of artists and art; that’s where I find my color, structure and flavor”.

Today, even if there is no question of trying to recover that unjustly lost third Michelin star, which he held from 2000-2008, Guy Martin has plenty on his plate, including a TV show, a consultancy at The Brando resort in French Polynesia, restaurants “I Love Paris” at Charles De Gaulle Airport and the precious collaboration with his son Flavian at L’Atelier de Guy Martin.

In the kitchen, testing’s just finished for La Bûche de Noël, version 2019, a magnificently astringent geometric concoction of black Iranian lemon, tonic, juniper berries on a lemon and vanilla biscuit base. A delicious edible work of art which can be ordered in advance (Tel: +33 (0)142965627 or email: [email protected]).

The Bûche de Noël at Le Grand Véfour.

It’s 3.00pm and the last Véfour guests leave, smiling. Guy Martin waits by the door, signing his books (of which he has authored dozens). He pauses to have his photo taken and bids guests “à bientôt”.

Outside, the groom and his assistant attend to the line of sleek limos waiting to ferry Véfour guests back into the real world.

PS. Guy Martin liked Le Grand Véfour so much he bought it in 2011. And last summer saw the opening of Palazzo Maritati and Palazzo Muci in the historic town of Nardò, southern Italy. This hospitality concept is housed in two historic palazzi, transformed by Guy Martin into a contemporary art-filled guesthouse with ten beautiful rooms, but, no restaurant! “You still have to come to Paris to taste my cuisine,” he says.

Le Grand Véfour
17 rue de Beaujolais, 1st
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 96 56 27
Metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre,
Lunch €115-€315. A La Carte from €220-€300
Closed Saturday Sunday and from December 23rd-25th.
Open December 31st for special New Year’s Eve Dinnner (€750) and January 1st Lunch & Dinner

Lead photo credit : The dining room at Le Grand Véfour. ©Jérôme Mondière

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Born in Hampton, Middlesex, UK, Margaret Kemp is a lifestyle journalist, based between London, Paris and the world. Intensive cookery courses at The Cordon Bleu, London, a wedding gift from a very astute ex-husband, gave her the base that would take her travelling (leaving the astute one behind) in search of rare food and wine experiences, such as the vineyards of Thailand, 'gator hunting in South Florida, learning to make eye-watering spicy food in Kerala;pasta making in a tiny Tuscany trattoria. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Financial Times Weekend and FT. How To Spend, The Spectator, Condé Nast Traveller, Food & Travel, and Luxos Magazine. She also advises as consultant to luxury hotels and restaurants. Over the years, Kemp has amassed a faithful following on BonjourParis. If she were a dish she'd be Alain Passard's Millefeuille “Caprice d'Enfant”, as a painting: Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe !


  • John Cunnington
    2020-03-20 02:31:05
    John Cunnington
    It’s the amazing values for money I experienced. All the team dedicated to make it a great experience even with me being alone. Lunch for me exceptional. The wines by the glass, recommended food and wine matches, attentiveness, and the social history all so evident. Well recommended for lunch. John in Australia.


  • Margaret Kemp
    2019-11-26 11:07:01
    Margaret Kemp
    Dear Jerry Stern, thank you so much for your input. Indeed, every restaurant can have an off day, but do point out any complaints you have to the chef - unlike many * chefs, he's always in the kitchen. Warmest wishes, MK.


  • Margaret Kemp
    2019-11-26 11:02:44
    Margaret Kemp
    You are absolutely right to point this out. Thank you! Bon Appetit! Best. MK.


  • Daniel Shields
    2019-11-22 07:24:32
    Daniel Shields
    Le Grand Véfour restaurant is NOT Belle Époque. The Belle Époque refers to the period after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 until the start of WWI in 1914.


  • jbauer
    2019-11-22 05:54:59
    How could any review of Le Grand Vefour neglect to mention the Tete de Veau dish? Having it at Grand Vefour was one of the culinary highlights of my 7 decades of eating


  • Jerry Stern
    2019-11-21 17:59:41
    Jerry Stern
    No doubt a great restaurant but it can be uneven at times. I've eaten lunch there about five times and had mostly extraordinary meals. But the one time in the evening I had a serving of veal sweetbreads, something I adore, that was flat, without any taste, and just poorly cooked and presented. Perhaps that was unusual. Every restaurant can have an off-day, or night, but a friend claimed he had the same experience. Still, I would go back to this fabulous place anytime in Paris, and will on my next trip there.